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Sunday, April 13, 2003


If it helps, those who want a shorthand way of memorizing what the military revolution is about --- as unveiled with powerful vividness in Iraq by the US military and its allies --- can think of it this way: [1]speed, flexibility, surprise, and [2] remarkable real-time intelligence and target-acquistion, [3] the targets themselves destroyed in almost the same instant thanks to precision-guided smart weaponry . . . [4] plus extraordinary communication at all levels and among all units on a nation-wide battlefield.. Nothing hard to remember here, is there? But remember: it's what makes these tactics and an overall strategy and coordination possible that really matters.

What makes it all possible is a quartet of hard-to-acquire and even harder-to-implement component parts, available only in the last twenty years or so . . . the pace of innovation increasing in rapid tempo throughout the period, amid great technological flux and uncertainty and through two very different decades of security threats: the cold war in its last stage as it turned out, and then the emergence of the new threats in the war on terrorism. In plain English,

  • first and foremost advanced information and communications technologies, ICT, which add up to what is called in military jargon C3I: communications, command, control, and intelligence. To the point that Cent-Com has overall digitalized imagery of the Iraqi nation-wide conflict, which will, it's worth adding, be even more comprehensive and easily managed within two to three years;

  • human talent and ability to cooperate at all levels, in fighting any battle front, in handling the logistics over extended and numerous supply lines, and at various points of command . . . from squads of a few regular infantry, armored, or airborne troops, to special-ops working unseen far behind enemy lines, to platoon, company, battalion, brigade, division, and central command. Such talent and professionalism are difficult challenges, beyond the capabilities of most national societies right now, as is the trust and spontaneous cooperation and flexibility needed to carry out deadly military missions. In the US military, the re-training of a post-Vietnam military began in the late 1970s, entered into a serious phase in the 1980s, then accelerated --- often in the face of tenacious resistance from old-line generals, with their supporters in Congress --- throughout the last decade, and especially in the Rumsfeld era.

  • organizational flexibility and restructuring, which makes all of the hardware, human talent, and digitalized intelligence and communications capabilities cohere and work properly. In some ways, military organizations are even more tenaciously resistant to change of the sort the military revolution requires --- and only again a handful of countries have this kind of organizational and political agility: the US, the UK, and Israel, plus Australia and possibly, handicapped by all sorts of bureaucratic, military, political, and educational rigidites, the French in the future.

  • not least, large and sustained defense spending for all these changes: training and retraining with rigor soldiers of all sorts for operational effectiveness, restructuring military organizations to make them functionally coherent across traditional service lines on the battlefield, risk-taking R&D in C3I and smart weaponry, and more and more too, don't forget, new commitments to anti-missile defenses.


    US Advantages

    The US is advantaged compared to all other countries on all these scores, but especially the latter. To give you a clear, concrete idea, military spending in this coming fiscal year will be close to $400 billion --- about 4% of GDP.

    By contrast, the EU total of defense spending by 15 member states, which total 380 million people (about a third larger than the US's population, will be around $140 billion . . . roughly a third of the US total, and what's more, on a downward tilt for years now. All this in the EU, mind you, despite the paper commitment to create a RRF of its own --- a rapid reaction force capable of deploying 60,000 troops with air- and sea-lift capacities for fighting anywhere, which would have required roughly a 50-100% increase in EU defense spending when the commitment was officially adopted in December 2000. As with the rest of EU common defense and foreign policies, the commitment turns out to be mainly in the realm of rhetoric. The Germans informed their allies last year that they couldn't supply their component 20,000 troops for another --- get this --- 10-15 years at best; and meanwhile Paris and London found that they didn't have enough existing forces to allocate their troops to any such mission. (NATO, however, thanks to a US lead, is committed more realistically to developing a multi-country RRF, ever assuming that NATO members --- now that the French and Germans have adopted counterbalancing diplomacy, even in NATO itself --- are capable of joint military action.)

    For an even clearer idea, compare the US's $400 billion this coming fiscal year with individual countries: Japan, Britain, and France each spending about $35-40 billion; Germany (now reducing defense to about 1.2% of its GDP!) around $22; China, probably around $70 billion (accurate and transparent figures are hard to come by), which amounts to about 1.5% of their GDP in purchasing power terms; and Russia around the same, roughly 10-15% of its small GDP. To put it differently, the US will be outspending by far the next 14 countries in military matters . . . something unheard of in military history. The following two tables, a little outdated, underscore this huge US lead here (they're s taken from the Economist of London, with the second one based on an impressive article by an IR scholar at Dartmouth, William Wohlforth, which appeared originally in International Security


    Comparatively, seen in historical perspective, the US lead is especially noticeable:

    As a shorthand summary (also worth memorizing), the US lead can be thought of in these terms: the US spends about 50% of the world's defense spending yearly, and there has never been any historical period we know of when this has been the case. See Paul Kennedy's
    observations (Kennedy is a well-known historian of the rise and fall of empires and hegemonial powers). Even in ancient times, the Roman Empire couldn't penetrate German forests beyond the Rhine --- when its legions tried, they were destroyed --- and it couldn't expand eastward beyond the Middle East because of the Persian Empire next door and, beyond that, the Chinese empire. Kennedy, it's worth observing, predicted back in the late 1980s that the US would suffer "imperial overstretch" that had overtaken all other hegemonial powers in the past, Rome included --- military and diplomatic commitments to maintain their dominant position exceeded more and more their economic resources and led to over-expansion that invited constant chipping away at their frontiers. He then recognized how wrong he was after the quick collapse of the Soviet Union in 1990-1991, a country whose rigid statist economy and vast military commitments were a clear case of over-extension, and as he now says, "Boy, are we powerful. I checked all the way back in history, and I just can't find a parallel to one country that spends more on its military than the combined total of the next 14 biggest powers."



    To bring above considerations about US power into sharper focus, we need to clarify more what power in international relations is and how it operates in support of any country's foreign policy. And as it happens, this key topic deserves a separate commentary of its own . . . starting today.